The Difference Between a Criminal Defense Lawyer and a Prosecutor

Apr 16th, 2020 | by Scott C. Thomas, Orange County Criminal Law Attorney

Some people may not know the difference between a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer. Even though both are portrayed quite often on cop TV shows, if you have never been involved in a criminal matter before, you may not know the difference.

If you have never before been involved with the police or considered to be a suspect in a crime, you may not know the difference between all the players in a courtroom. The two positions that most often confuses people are the prosecutor and the criminal defense lawyer. This article will detail the distinguishing aspects of each job, clearing up any confusion you may have.

The first thing to realize is that a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer are both attorneys who successfully completed law school. Both had to pass the bar exam in their particular state and be sworn in as lawyers. But the main difference is that the prosecutor represents the interest of the state or Federal government in court, and the criminal defense lawyer works for the individual who is being charged with a crime. Basically, each is on opposite sides of the courtroom.

Another difference is that prosecutors only deal with criminal matters, whereas criminal defense lawyers can represent clients in criminal matters as well as civil matters. Prosecutors attempt to convict a person who they believe has committed a crime while a criminal defense lawyer will fight for the rights of the accused and attempt to convince a jury that his or her client was not guilty.

Criminal defense attorneys can be hired by the individual or they can be appointed by the court. In most jurisdictions, there is a public defender’s office who employs lawyers to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire their own lawyer. A public defender is usually employed by the state or county court and acts as the criminal defense lawyer. Typical cases that a criminal lawyer may handle range from fraud to domestic violence to DUIs.

In theory, the prosecutor, who works for the district attorney’s office, represents “the people’s’” interest in the criminal courtroom. If someone is suspected of a crime, that person will be arrested and will eventually have to be involved in a trial in front of a judge and jury. The prosecutor will compile all of the evidence and present it to the jury and attempt to convince the jury of the guilt of the accused. The prosecutor does this by questioning witnesses, victims, experts, and submitting evidence.

The criminal defense lawyer’s job is ultimately to protect the freedom or “liberty” of the accused. A criminal defense lawyer does not have to prove that the accused is innocent. The only thing a defense lawyer has to do is convince a jury that the prosecutor did not do his or her job and submit enough evidence that the accused committed the crime. The prosecutor has a high bar to meet with this standard. The standard is that the prosecutor has to convince a jury of the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury does not believe the prosecutor has reached this high standard, then the jury will acquit and render a verdict in favor of the defendant. Again, this does not mean that the defendant is innocent, it just means that the jury does not believe the prosecutor met the burden to convict the defendant of a crime.

The role of a criminal defense lawyer is not just to represent their clients in criminal trials, but it is also to advise clients when they are being questioned by the police. Most of the time, when you are asked to come to the police station to be questioned by an officer or a detective, authorities already think that you committed a crime. In most instances, you can expect to not leave the police station. This is where a criminal defense lawyer comes in.

The police will try to convince that nothing bad will happen to you if you just cooperate with them and answer their questions, that you will be able to go home in no time at all. This typically does not happen, no matter what you see in cop shows. What they are actually thinking is that you are most likely guilty so we want to get you to spill as much as you can to incriminate yourself.

But this does not mean you should not cooperate with the police or try to run and hide. That would just make things worse for you and convince them even more that you are guilty. You can speak to the police, but you should also have an experienced criminal defense lawyer at your side to represent your interests and to make sure that detectives and/or prosecutors are not violating your rights. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you as to whether or not what the police are saying is true or accurate. Also, a criminal defense lawyer can be the hired mouthpiece of the accused, so that the person does not accidentally say something incriminating.

The bottom line is that if you are involved in any way with a crime or the police, the smartest thing to do is to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect you and your freedom.

Scott C. Thomas

Law Office of Scott C. Thomas
(949) 945-2085

FREE Case Evaluation

Practice Areas

No matter the nature of your criminal charges, Scott. C. Thomas can assist you through the legal process.

Criminal DefenseCriminal Defense

A criminal arrest, especially on felony charges can turn a life upsidedown, ruin a reputation, and put the defendant at serious risk for long-range punishments.

DUI & DWI DefenseDUI & DWI Defense

A local police or state patrol stop for suspicion of drunk driving shouldn’t be the end of the world for anyone — whether it’s your first offense or your third.

Drug ChargesDrug Charges

A guilty verdict in a criminal trial for methamphetamine manufacture or heroin trafficking can put you in prison for years.

White Collar CrimesWhite-Collar Crimes

Whether you are an executive or a receptionist, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and you have a right to your day in court.

Identity TheftFraud & ID Theft

In criminal law, fraud is a very broad category that includes a wide array of actions that many people do not even realize are crimes.

Violent CrimesViolent Crimes

A domestic violence complaint may have started with a “he said, she said” situation. Scott C. Thomas explores every strategy for having your charges reduced or dismissed.

Skip to content